Is My House Haunted?

Matthew Brady
Written by Matthew Brady
Updated March 3, 2016
historic house, Queen Anne, bungalow house
Before you buy any home, but especially with older homes, ask your Realtor about any reports on paranormal activity or crimes that have happened in the house. (Photo courtesy of Holmes Palacios)

Realtors advise buyers to ask as many questions as possible about a home's history before you buy.

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Add one more item to your home-buying checklist: "Ask agent about ghosts."

Pepper Partin thought she knew everything about her new home until she found out it was on the Irvington Ghost Tour.

Turns out her home sits on land once rented by the man often called America's first serial killer, H.H. Holmes. In the 1890s, he killed and disposed of at least one of his 27 victims — a 10-year-old boy — on her Julian Avenue property outside Indianapolis.

"When I found out that we were on the ghost tour, I was a little angry that nobody told us about it, nobody disclosed anything," Partin says.

How much does a Realtor have to reveal?

Every state has its own real estate laws, so it's going to depend on where you live as to what your Realtor is required to tell you about a property. Indiana law requires no disclosure involving what the real estate industry calls "psychologically affected" or "stigmatized" properties.

However, an agent may not intentionally misrepresent a fact if asked a direct question about issues, such as if someone has ever died on the property or a felony has been committed on it. A real estate agent also can refuse to answer.

Jill S. Beitz, a Realtor in the Greenwood, Indiana, office of F.C. Tucker Co. Inc., advises homeowners to ask as many questions as possible.

"We'll go chat with the neighbors," she says. "They are a huge wealth of information as far as what's going on with the house."

Realtors follow a code of ethics

The National Association of Realtors' code of ethics also requires its licensed agents to avoid "exaggeration, misrepresentation or concealment of pertinent facts" relating to a property.

In its online tip sheet for agents, the association cites a Texas case in which the sellers were forced to buy back their house because they did not disclose that a next-door neighbor had a habit of leaving her house naked and cursing loudly.

"If in doubt, disclose, disclose, disclose," Beitz says. "Because I can guarantee, as soon as a new buyer buys a house, the neighbors are going to come running over as fast as they can and say, 'Guess what, there's been a paranormal investigation team at this house' or 'There's been a crime team here.' Neighbors will blab."

Partin's situation ended amicably. She learned the history of her property (the original Holmes house was demolished long ago) from the ghost tour organizers and also was able to share a few ghost stories of her own. The house truly is haunted, she says. Kitchen drawers open and close — her cat got trapped in one. Beds sometimes turn down and an iron skeleton key inexplicably bent itself in half.

But the ghosts are benevolent, she says, and she and her partner, Wendi Garringer, have made their peace with them. They have no regrets about buying the house, but say a friendly heads-up from the sellers would have been nice.

"If somebody had said, 'By the way, there's a little bit of ghost activity, and by the way, you are on the ghost tour, I might have thought, 'OK, that's kind of neat. We love the house. We'll go ahead and buy it."

Editor's note: This is an updated version of an article originally posted on September 17, 2010. 

Do you think your house is haunted? Tell us why in the comments section below.

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